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Reviews

The Lost City  | Regional News

The Lost City

(PG-13)

112 mins

(4 out of 5)

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

The Lost City isn’t a perfect film, but by sticking to its genre and utilising the on-screen chemistry of its cast, I never found myself bored during this star-studded action-comedy. In fact, it was a heck of a lot of fun!  

Reclusive author Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) uses her knowledge and passion for anthropology to write about exotic places in her popular adventure novels that feature a handsome cover model named Alan (Channing Tatum). While on tour promoting her new book, Loretta gets kidnapped by an eccentric billionaire (Daniel Radcliffe) who hopes she can lead him to an ancient city's lost treasure. Determined to prove he can be a hero in real life and not just in her books, Alan sets off to rescue her in what turns out to be an adventure the pair will never forget.

You never really know if an action-comedy is going to be funny, but in the case of The Lost City, it definitely nailed the comedic side of things. Although Bullock and Tatum have their moments, it was surprisingly the film’s minor characters who I found the most amusing. Whether it was Brad Pitt’s brilliant 10-minute cameo, the exploits of Loretta’s tour manager (Da'Vine Joy Randolph), or a slightly inappropriate pilot (Oscar Nuñez) and his goat (yes there’s a goat), the supporting cast all played their roles to perfection. 

Bullock and Tatum’s on-screen chemistry was also a highlight. The two bounced off each other throughout the film while playing to their strengths. The film didn’t overdo it – there was action when it needed action, and a little bit of emotion when it needed a little bit of emotion. A small let-down was Radcliffe and his evil billionaire character Abigail Fairfax. The villain lacked any real depth – it would have been nice to learn about something other than his endless hatred for a younger brother we never meet.

Visually stunning throughout, The Lost City does a fantastic job of recreating the magnificent world Loretta describes in her books. The film never tries too hard, and the holes in the pretty-predictable plot are quickly filled with the many humorous moments, all of which are portrayed terrifically by a fantastic cast. The perfect word to describe The Lost City? Fun!

Timberrr…! | Regional News

Timberrr…!

Written by: Damon Andrews and Matt Chamberlain

Directed by: Damon Andrews

Circa Theatre, 8th Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

Inspired by the real life and triumphs of world champion axeman and World War I veteran Ned Shewry, Timberrr…! imagines his ‘what might have been’ story when, as a confirmed bachelor, he is in middle age and meets his fictional long-lost son Billy. Ned is a hard-as-nails, take-no-prisoners, outdoors man, while Billy is sensitive, compassionate, and soft.

This central conceit drives the unbroken 85 minutes of narrative (make sure you grab a glass of wine and visit the bathroom before it starts because there’s no interval) as Ned trains up Billy to take on his long-time wood-chopping rival’s brother as the next junior champion. Surrounding them is a colourful bevvy of Taranaki locals with varying interest in the outcome.

I have a soft spot for plays like this with a small cast playing multiple roles on a sparse set with no props, clever tech support, and one set of clothes. It allows the cast and crew to have fun and demonstrate their full range of talents, and allows audience members to engage their brains and use their intelligence to fill in the blanks.

Stephen Papps makes the tough Ned likeable enough to care about, as well as doubling several minor characters. His innuendo-laden, sex-starved femme fatale Eunice is a highlight. As the singing and dancing Billy, Tyler Kokiri is superb. He also creates wonderful human portraits with the bumbling Constable Keith and the growling Whata, among others. Picking up several other supporting characters in Ned and Billy’s rural Taranaki lives is Serena Cotton, who plays both men’s love interests, Herb the wood-chopping commentator, and more with class and verve.

All three actors maintain high energy and pace, switching effortlessly between characters, and the story rollicks along to its naturally satisfying conclusion with a sweet twist along the way. It’s also very funny. If you’re worn out by COVID and everything else going on in the world, get down to Circa for irrepressibly Kiwi comic relief.

UNDOING | Regional News

UNDOING

Presented by: House of Sand

BATS Theatre, 7th Mar 2022

Reviewed by: Leah Maclean

When you are confronted by three naked forms and an existential Ed Harris-sounding voiceover, you could be in for either emotional catharsis or an eye-rolling debacle. House of Sand’s UNDOING treads a fine line between both. 

Billed more toward performance art, UNDOING fuses movement, spoken word, and physical theatre into an absurdist work that is meant to be interpreted subjectively by the audience. Sometimes contemporary work claims that it’s ‘totally subjective’ but often there’s an underlying message and as an audience member you’re ‘too uncultured’ to see it. But House of Sand feels genuine in the sentiment that you should read into and connect with what you want. Occasionally it’s nice not to think too hard when you go to the theatre.   

Led by director, choreographer, and producer Eliza Sanders, UNDOING is carried by a cohort of young dancers whose bodies contort and convulse in equally grotesque and gorgeous ways. Not every performer is technically perfect, but it suits the raw intention of the show. It feels like the epitome of a slow burn, with the dancers repeating synchronised sequences and writhing on the ground. It would be remiss not to mention one of the focal points being the isolation of a dancer who is tasked with taking the duration of the show to cross from one end of the stage to the other. Every now and then I would find myself focusing on this lone dancer, just to determine how much longer the show had to go on.

In between moments of cringingly ‘self-aware’ monologues and inexplicable grunting, there were instances of well-thought-out choreography and resonance. Towards the end, the performers engage in more energetic bouts of movement coming to a crescendo as the isolated dancer finally meets the other side of the stage.

UNDOING feels like a brain dump of ideas and feelings, possibly reflective of surviving the various lockdowns or pushing through a creative block. It certainly won’t tick the boxes for everyone but there is something to be said for House of Sand’s confident approach to creativity and performance.          

Sundays at Ira’s  | Regional News

Sundays at Ira’s

Created by: Jane Keller and Michael Nicholas Williams

Directed by: KC Kelly

Running at Circa Theatre until 16th Apr

Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson

Jane Keller’s great-aunt Alice doesn’t like to name drop but she was a close personal friend of Ira Gershwin’s. In fact, Alice lived in the apartment below Ira and was often privy to the ceiling-shaking soirées he would throw after the last Broadway performance of the week – the Sunday matinée. The likes of Noël Coward, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter would also attend these lavish parties, forming the soundtrack for Sundays at Ira’s.  

Keller intersperses spoken excerpts of Alice’s diary with performances of iconic ditties from the 1930s, which I’m ashamed to admit I don’t recognise half of. I’m not the target demographic for this show but I can appreciate the joyous vibrato ringing in my ears as many of my fellow audience members sing along.

I can also appreciate the exceptional piano playing of Michael Nicholas Williams, the lovely, sparkly outfits and set adorned with art deco statement pieces (Meredith Dooley and Keller), and Keller’s strong vocal performance.

Name dropping is a running theme and joke throughout Sundays at Ira’s but I’d love to hear more about the people with these big names. Thanks to Keller’s humorous rendition of Vodka it quickly becomes my standout number, but I don’t learn much about the people who wrote it, including George Gershwin who is mentioned countless times. I understand these people are famous but I struggle to connect with them or indeed with Alice herself, so little do I know of her or her story. More of a human element woven throughout the story would help make the music more accessible to younger generations like myself.

Keller is one of my favourite actors and has huge, effortless stage presence. I’d love to see a little more choreography or movement in the songs, plus more direct eye contact. Keller often adopts a distant, faraway look when she starts to sing, and while her eyes capture the light beautifully, I crave more intimacy and connection.

Boys, Wake Up! | Regional News

Boys, Wake Up!

Created by: Jackson Burling

Directed by: Jackson Burling and Bella Petrie

BATS Theatre, 5th Apr 2022

Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus

COVID thwarted the first attempt to stage the premiere season of Boys, Wake Up! as part of the Fringe Festival. Luckily, Brick Haus Productions has been able to find a new slot at BATS Theatre for its brave exploration of toxic masculinity.

Four hormone-ravaged teenage boys (Renata Mahuika, Caleb Pedro, Isaac Andrews, and Jackson Burling) leave a house party in the wops on the verge of starting a fight and make the terrible decision to drive home despite being well over the limit. Unsurprisingly, they spin off the road and roll down a steep bank. They then spend a cold, wet night in the bush with no cell phone coverage, waiting for uncertain rescue while they nurse increasingly serious injuries.

Initially full of adrenaline and bravado, they gradually reveal the vulnerabilities of young males on the verge of manhood with their frustrating mix of dumb childishness and genuine concern for the welfare of their friends, along with the ability to call each other out for their despicable attitudes towards the girls in their lives. Most of us have known boys like these at some point in our lives and while these characters and their behaviours are not particularly likeable, the skill of the four actors is such that the inevitable tragic ending is heart-breaking.

Burling should be congratulated for a script that feels fresh, real, and natural despite traversing familiar themes. His performance on stage is also nuanced and affecting, even though he speaks much less often than the others. Mahuika, Pedro, and Andrews are equally strong with a maturity and fearlessness to their performances that belies their age.

Charleigh Griffiths’ lighting and sound design provide superb support for the action on stage with an unintrusive soundtrack of native birds, passing cars, and a munching goat, and dips to chilly blue that effectively show the passing of hours in the dark.

This polished, timely, and moving production deserves full houses.

Death on the Nile | Regional News

Death on the Nile

(M)

127 mins

(3 ½ out of 5)

Reviewed by: Alessia Belsito-Riera

Whether or not you’ve seen its prequel Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh’s newest rendition of the famous Agatha Christie murder-mystery Death on the Nile is well worth a watch. With a star-studded cast the likes of Annette Bening, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and Kenneth Branagh himself as the inimitable detective Hercule Poirot, this movie will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Poirot is happily enjoying his holiday in Egypt when he is interrupted by his friend Bouc’s (Tom Bateman) invitation to join the wedding party of Linnet and Simon Doyle (Gadot and Hammer) down the Nile River. However the honeymoon takes a turn for the worse when death makes a not-so-surprise appearance aboard the cruise.

Utterly glamorous, Branagh’s rendition fully embraces the vintage aesthetic this period piece permits. From costumes to props, and even setting, the film itself is so indisputably beautiful that it comes as a shock to find it was filmed entirely in a London Studio and not along the sultry shores of the Nile herself.

The score is beautifully crafted, featuring jazz music that would have been at the height of fashion in 1937. Unique however is that the score is seamlessly woven into the story itself through the character of Salome Otterbourne (Sophie Okonedo), a famous jazz singer of the novel’s era who happens to be invited along on the cruise.

The editing style wholly embraces the murder-mystery genre of the film. With wide slow exposition shots interspersed with quick cuts in moments of tension, the editing leaves you on edge and desperate to uncover the killer. Similarly, the cinematography guides the viewer’s eye exactly where it needs to be, hiding clues in plain sight and revealing just enough to formulate conjectures and accusations. Interrogation scenes characterised by chiaroscuro lighting denote a sense of paranoia, whereas sweeping circular shots of Poirot pacing around his suspects create unease and restlessness, making even the viewer feel a little guilty.

Glamorous, classic, and undoubtedly fun, Death on the Nile delivers precisely as promised.

El Barrio  | Regional News

El Barrio

35 Dixon Street, Te Aro

Reviewed by: Harry Bartle

From the moment you walk up the stairs into El Barrio, you feel as if you have suddenly walked into a restaurant somewhere in Latin America. The catchy Latin American tunes, funky interior, and Spanish and Portuguese-speaking staff all help transport you far from central Wellington before the food has even hit your table. 

Their menu is perfect for sharing and my partner and I made the most of their range of Latin American inspired tapas. We ordered caprese empanadas, crispy squid, guacamole, carne asada (grilled beef with tortillas), pão de queijo (cheesy bread), and chicken nibbles. Now before I jump into all the good stuff, I will say that the portions are very small. Six tapas were enough for two people but let’s just say they put the nibbles in chicken nibbles. 

Most of the food was delicious. The crispy squid was the staff pick and it was certainly my pick as well. As promised, it came out crispy and flavoursome, and the salsa criolla it was served with provided a nice boost of spice. Simple flavours came to life in the caprese empanadas, which were stuffed with stretchy mozzarella, tomato, basil, parmesan, and spices. The guacamole and chicken nibbles weren’t the best I’d ever had but they were still pleasant.   

My only let down was the pão de queijo. I am certainly no expert on this Brazilian specialty but to me it tasted quite bland, and a pairing of aioli didn’t really work. However, the juicy and tender beef served with carne asada made up for it and being able to make our own little tortillas was a nice touch. Considering where we were, it only felt right to order churros for dessert, and although one was slightly undercooked the rest were perfect.  

The service was good but not amazing as the staff members weren’t jumping for joy when we walked in, but they helped us with everything we needed. The food came out reasonably quickly and the Latin American cocktails were delightful. El Barrio’s awesome interior slightly outshined its food, but overall, this Latino restaurant is one that will have guests yelling ¡vamos!

Museum | Regional News

Museum

Written by: Frances Samuel

Te Herenga Waka University Press

Reviewed by: Margaret Austin

This collection (if you’ll excuse the pun) relates to author Frances Samuel’s experience as a writer of texts for museum pieces. Perhaps it’s not surprising that an unusual occupation like that should give rise to such smart, witty, nuanced poems.

I smiled with delight at her signature Exhibition, which describes museum objects as “those red herrings of history” and refers to “my employee’s tag a cheap necklace with an outdated cameo”. It took me more than one reading to discover the poem’s meaning – artfully obscured behind a heap of such images – but I’m glad I persevered.

Climate Change posits an unlikely and novel pairing of the ornithological and the mammalian. “You be a bird and I’ll be a buffalo” is the premise, and the poet goes on to suggest why the combination of six legs and four eyes is a useful and workable one. Behind the words sits the concept of cooperation, surely so indispensable for combatting climate change, captured movingly in the last three lines: “Over and again, agreement can only come when the bird in me bleats to the buffalo in you.”

Samuel goes on to capture the world of the supernatural, most effectively with her narrative-style How to Catch and Manufacture Ghosts. The writer is good at this job: “Bed sheets with elasticated corners are the best tools for the job”, she advises, and “most ghosts don’t struggle. I think they’re happy to be caught” turns out to be an ironic comment on the nature of marriage.

My favourite poem would have to be Pottery – yes, you read that right – and our writer here uses the likeness of pottery to poetry to comment on the nature of the latter. “Pots are approachable, democratic, familiar to everyone. They don’t require special knowledge to interpret and neither do poems”.

And surely that’s true, or should be, of poetry. Although Samuel’s work is erudite and clever, it isn’t self-indulgently so. She’s down to earth enough to include motherhood and exercise amongst her poetic targets. And, of course, museums.

The Magpie Society: Two For Joy | Regional News

The Magpie Society: Two For Joy

Written by: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch

Penguin Random House

Reviewed by: Kerry Lee 

Picking up directly from the first book One For SorrowTwo For Joy continues the adventures of the title’s main protagonists, Audrey and Ivy, as they try to solve the mysteries surrounding their school Illumen Hall and the titular Magpie Society. 

This time the actions ramped up to level 10, with the stakes getting higher and much deadlier for everyone involved. In my review for One For Sorrow a couple of years ago, I compared it with Harry Potter; now, it feels as if both Sugg and McCulloch have taken the series and moved it in an entirely new direction. A darker one filled with personalities and locations just as memorable as anything JK Rowling could ever come up with. If this were a movie, I would say that it was a cinematic experience, made with a bigger budget than the first.

The characters are the deepest and most complex I’ve seen. Each one is alive with their own motivations. We see behind-the-scenes glimpses into Ivy and Audrey, who are more developed this time around. By dividing the book into chapters that focus on each girl, we see what makes them tick as people and learn more about their motivations. 

Usually, I take the time to discuss the negatives found in the book, but there isn’t anything for me to complain about here. Everything from the first title has been beefed up and made better, and what didn’t work has been ditched. My only real grumble is that I suspect this might be the last book in the series, and I’ll have to say goodbye to The Magpie Society for good.

Bottom line, if you have read One For Sorrow, then you need to pick this up. To sum it up in just a few words: satisfying, clever, wonderful, fun.